The Books I’m Reading (and the things they taught me) on My Journey to Entrepreneurial Success
Last Updated Sep 8, 2017
The following is a list of books that I've read or am hoping to read during this process.
☀️ = Super valuable.
☁️ = Somewhat valuable.
☂️ = Not for me.
(emoji ranking system borrowed with permission from Jason Zook)
Note that I’m very purposefully not consuming much in the way of blog posts or that sort of thing. I will continue to seek out blog posts if I have a specific technical question, but I need to create the space to be able to think for myself. That means long-form or no form at all.
Note further that I’ve never been much of a reader. In high school I skipped books in favor of Spark Notes. I’ve never read more than five books in a single year. And I’ve gone, on multiple occasions, multiple years between books.
But since this challenge has popped into my head I have found myself reading. And reading some more.
In what is perhaps irony I have more time to read during the writing of this book and this aggressive challenge than I have had in the past. That's because this newfound level of structure that I've added to my life includes clearly defined objectives. By working smarter and harder I’m in front of a screen for fewer hours. But I still want to be moving forward even when I’m not “working”. Enter reading.
I point all this out in case you stumble upon this list and think that it’s unrealistic for you to read this much. Maybe you’re not a reader, either. But trust me, if I can read this much than so can you. If you want to.
Note that the links below are not affiliate links, for what it’s worth.
I’ve included my notes where applicable (I didn’t take notes for all books). A lot of the notes are direct quotes from the authors. I got into the habit of opening Bear on my iPhone whenever the narrator said something that I knew I wanted to record, and then dictating that same thing into Bear.
All books are audiobooks unless otherwise stated.
This was a 3-hour listen. Sooooo much value in such a short period of time. I’ll almost definitely read this again before this project is done.
Be as good to as many people as possible as often as possible. Never do so in a phony way, but go out of your way as often as possible to help when it's not phony. And when somebody says thank you for that help don't say something like "not a problem" or "it's just part of the job". Instead say something like "you're welcome, you would do the same for me."
By acknowledging that you indeed did do a favor you are accepting the positive position of influence in which that places you. Don't dismiss or diminish the favor that you have done, but also don't overstate it.
When pitching a new idea to people it's just as important to tell them what they stand to lose by not adopting the idea as it is to tell them what they gain by adopting the idea. People value scarce resources more than they do abundant ones, and this is especially true when they are in competition with others for the scarce resources.
It's not enough to simply talk in terms of benefits. We need to emphasize the unique features of our products and ideas. I need to inform people accurately of what they will not be able to have if they do not move in my suggested direction.
Research suggests that people are much more motivated by the idea of losing something and they are by the idea of gaining that same thing. And to not point out the chance that somebody could lose that something because a competitor takes it instead would be to fumble away that influence.
Credible authority requires two inputs. The first is expertise and the second is trustworthiness.
Expertise can't always be assumed. It must sometimes be conveyed, preferably early on in the relationship and in a somewhat indirect way so as to not be shoving it in one's face.
Trustworthiness requires that your audience believes that you are unbiased. Of course if I'm trying to sell something then I'm inherently biased, but I can at least be insanely honest about everything and not to oversell or overhype anything.
Portray something exactly as it is including its faults and people will trust you more. Be sure to include both the pros and the cons, and make sure to mention the cons first because that will establish your trustworthiness and thereby make people more inclined to believe you when you then list the pros.
Mention a drawback before mentioning all the great aspects. Maybe describe a weakness in my product service or idea. Maybe comment on how the competition has a pretty good product, too. Say something initially that seems to be contrary to my own interests.
The more people that are doing a human activity the more likely it is that others will join in. So when we do have the social proof on our side it would be a shame to bungle it away.
If the consensus of opinion is on my side I need to be ready to show numbers, charts, lists etc displaying as much.
We are most influenced by the actions of other people who are similar to ourselves. Show testimonials. But instead of only showing testimonials from major companies (or super-mega bloggers in my case), also show testimonials from regular-sized people who probably have a lot more in common with the current person viewing the page. Maybe include some details about the person in the testimonial.
When people are unfamiliar with a situation they are looking to get advice from people outside of themselves as to what to do. So they look toward people just like them. If people find themselves in doubt they can be reassured by the fact that many others had the same doubt in their shoes and went on to be successful.
Consistency and Commitment
People are more confident about a horse’s chances of success immediately after placing a bet on the horse than they were just before placing a bet on the horse.
If you can get people to take a stance on something, even a small one, they'll be inclined to stick to that stance going forward. Just having or getting others feeling positive towards your idea or product or service is not enough. To get favorable action you have to commit them to that favorable attitude.
When left to its own devices change is rarely a permanent thing. It must be solidified otherwise it evaporates with the passage of time. Psychological commitment is needed to cement a change we have created. Commitments will be most effective in producing consistent future responses when they possess three major features:
- When they are active. A change that exists only in someone’s mind probably won’t last. They must take concrete steps like simply describing the change and its implications. Written declarations provide undeniable physical evidence that the act occurred. “People live up do what they have written down.”
- When they are public. If customers say that they love something about your product, don’t bungle away the opportunity to ask them to write a testimonial letter to that effect. They’ll love your product even more as a result, because they’ll have taken a public stand. When commitments are made public they are even more powerful.
- When they are voluntary. The commitment must be voluntary. If it’s forced or coerced it won’t be effective. The person must take inner responsibility. People who are forced into a commitment will abandon it at first chance and might also feel some resentment.
There is no simpler or more powerful a technique of instant influence than finding and publicizing genuine testimonials.
Here’s an idea based on this principle:
Create an interactive one-question-at-a-time thing like Email Service Provider Picker as the landing page for whatever app or SaaS prelaunch that I do. A giant screen-takeover type thing would get people to take the smallest imaginable step in order to commit to the idea. After third question ask them if they’d like to see the product.
For one of my ideas the series of questions might look like this.
- Are you an online creator that shares your creations with an audience?
- Do you think that your audience plays (or has the potential to play) an important role in your success?
- Would you like to easily be able to connect more intimately with your fans in order to grow an audience that loves you to pieces?
- APP NAME combines elements of MailChimp, Intercom and Disqus. To be fair, it isn’t yet as polished as MailChimp. It’s not yet as beautiful as Intercom. And it’s not yet as feature-rich as Disqus. But it absolutely lets you connect with your fans in a deeper way than any of those tools. [Okay, stop talking and show it to me.]
That last point sprinkles in the Trustworthiness component of admitting that cons of the service. Perhaps have little testimonials in the bottom corner of the page during this whole process to play into the Consensus component.
Friendship and Liking Principle
People are substantially more likely to say yes to somebody that they know and like. A la the home tupperware party. Turning down requests that come via a friend or neighbor is way harder. That’s not always practical online, though. We have to get people to like us before we make our request. Three factors can make us more likable.
Similarity. We like people who are like us.
Praise. We like people who like us. “I like you.” People are phenomenal suckers for flattery. Insincere flattery is dishonest, and that effects self-esteem and enthusiasm. Insincerity also ruins your chances of actually liking the person, because you won’t look for things that you actually do like.
Cooperation. People who have a common goal are much for favorable and helpful to each other.
These factors are so obvious that we forget to use them.
Don't smuggle! Importing any of these principles of influence into a situation in an unnatural and deceitful way is sure to backfire in the long run. It’s tempting, especially when others around you are doing it and especially when you know it can be profitable in the short term, but don’t freaking do it.
This was a 90 minute listen. It’s hard to imagine spending 90 minutes more productively, except maybe for using those 90 minutes to re-listen to half of Influence.
- The law of leadership. Be the first, not the best.
- The law of the category. If you can't be the first in a category, then set up a new category that you can be the first in. Everyone is interested in what's new. Few people are interested in what's better. When you're first in the new category promote the category because in essence you have no competition. Forget the brand and promote the category.
- The law of the mind. It's better to be first in the prospect’s mind than it is to be first in the marketplace. The most wasteful thing that you can do in marketing is to try to change a human mind. Once you have made a first impression, that's it.
- The law of perception. Marketing is not a battle of products, it's a battle of perceptions. It’s more important that a potential customer thinks you’re the highest quality than it is that you actually are the highest quality. People often make buying decisions based on the perception of others, not even on their own perception.
- The law of focus. The most valuable concept of marketing is owning a word in the mind. Not a complicated word or an invented word. Your word has to be available in your category, nobody else can have a lock on it. You can't stand for something if you chase after everything. The key is to get others to use your word. To be a leader you have to have followers. If competitors start using your word to relate to their customers, you win.
- The law of exclusivity. Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect's mind.
- The law of the ladder. The strategy you use depends on which rung you occupy on the ladder. Acknowledge your position on the ladder just like Avis did when they acknowledged that they were number two in Rent-A-Cars. In general a mind accepts only new data which is consistent with their knowledge of the ladder in a specific category.
- The law of duality. In the long run every market becomes a two horse race.
- The law of the opposite. If you're shooting for second place your strategy is determined by the leader. Leverage the leaders strength into a weakness. Don't try to be better, be different. You can't try to emulate the leader, but rather you must position yourself as an alternative.
- The law of division. Like an amoeba dividing in a petri dish, the marketing arena can be viewed as an ever expanding sea of categories. Timing is also important. You could be too early to exploit a new category.
- The law of perspective. Marketing effects take place over an extended period of time. The long-term effects of marketing are often the exact opposite of the short-term effects. This law seems to really just to be about line extension (growing a brand with more and more products), so probably not applicable to me.
- The law of line extension. There's an irresistible urge to extend the brand. When you try to be all things to all people you inevitably wind up in trouble. This seems like it has a lot to do with the focus law. And while I might not launch different products it certainly seems to be applicable to new features. Keep the focus on the important things. Line extinction, or maybe feature addition, tends to be profitable in the short term but a detriment in the long term. More is less. Less is more. The narrower your focus the stronger your position in the prospect’s mind.
- The law of sacrifice. You have to give up something in order to get something. This law is the opposite of the law of line extension. We are in the age of the specialist. Where is it written that you have to appeal to everybody? And where is it written that you have to change your target once a year?
- The law of attributes. For every attribute there is an opposite effective attribute. Instead of trying to emulate the attributes of a leader, instead search for an opposite attribute that will allow you to playoff against the leader.
- The law of candor. When you admit a negative the prospect will give you a positive. Candor is disarming. Negative statements are excepted as truth, whereas positive statements are looked upon as dubious at best. Candor must be used with great skill. The negative must be widely perceived as a negative. And you must shift quickly to the positive. The purpose of candor is not to apologize, but to relate. This seems to be the same as the Trustworthiness aspect talked about in Influence.
- The law of singularity. In each situation only one move will produce substantial results.
- The law of unpredictability. Unless you can write your competitor’s plans, you can't predict the future. Good short-term marketing is coming up with a word or an angle that positions you well and then going in a long-term direction. But a long-term direction is not the same as a long-term plan. No one can predict the future, so don’t make marketing plans to try to. Go in a direction, but be ready and willing to change course when change is necessary. Don't assume that nothing will change, but also don't assume that something will change. Just be ready.
- The law of success. Success often leads to arrogance and arrogance to failure. Ego is the enemy of successful marketing. Objectivity is what is needed.
- The law of failure. Failure is to be expected and accepted. Recognize failure early and cut your losses.
- The law of hype. The situation is often the opposite of the way that it appears in the press.
- The law of acceleration. Successful programs are not but on fads, they're built on trends. A fad is a wave in the ocean and a trend is the tide. Forget fads, and when they do appear try to dampen them. That is, try to kill the amplitude and turn them into things that are less drastic but more likely to hang around.
- The law of resources. Without adequate funding an idea won't get off the ground. Even the best idea in the world won't go very far without the money to get it off the ground. You need money to get into the mind and you need money to stay in the mind. First get the idea then go get the money to exploit it.
Purple Cow ☀️☀️
(I keep rating every book highly. Does that mean I’m the world’s best book selector? Or does that mean I should read more often because reading is valuable?)
Market leaders today are market leaders because they did something remarkable and unique. That remarkable thing is already taken and can't be copied. So don’t try to follow the leader by doing the same thing the leader did. Instead follow by analyzing how the leader went about things and go about things in a similar way by doing your own different thing.
Instead of making the best product for the way that the consumer currently acts, consider making something that slightly changes the way that they act.
If a product’s future is unlikely to be remarkable don't invest any more time or money into that dying product. He didn't say this exactly, but that's what I got out of it. Maybe that’s my “I should probably stop working on Feed Hero” complex talking.
Services that are worth talking about get talked about. Being remarkable is not a cheap short cut, but it works.
It is useless to advertise to anyone except interested sneezers (people who will fall in love with your product and then “sneeze” that love all over others). These opportunities are rare. Spend most of time investing in making purple cow even better and more purple instead of advertising. Offering of a little cheaper or better is a waste of time.
Your products shouldn't cater to the masses. Differentiate your customers. Find the group that's most profitable and most likely to sneeze and cater to these people.
It's so hard to be purple because people are afraid. If you're remarkable some people won't like you. The safe thing to is to fit in. School is great at teaching us to play it safe. And safe is failure. Criticism does not lead to failure. Being safe is risky. Boring always leads to failure.
What tactics do I use that follow a leader in order to try to catch up to that leader? What if I abandoned them a made list of how I could catch up by being different?
Mass marketers hate measuring. Measuring means discovering flaws and fixing them.
The cow isn’t everlasting. Except for maybe price the purpleness of all cows eventually fades. So milk the cow and then start working on a new cow for the time when the benefits of the first cow run out.
The opposite of remarkable is very good. Are you making very good stuff? How fast can you stop?
Marketing just to keep busy is worse than doing nothing at all.
Find the market niche first and then create the remarkable product, not the other way around. Which market has the people with the most Otaku (people that see the market as more than a hobby but less than an obsession, that are super enthusiastic to try new things)? Serve odd and whacky folks.
Go for the edges in one or more of the Ps. Pricing, product, etc.
Copy matters. A slogan is a script for sneezers to use. The script guarantees that the word of mouth is passed on properly. Unless the slogan sucks.
Promote your products in a medium where sneezers exist and are actually paying attention. So maybe Reddit, product hunt, appsumo, etc. This could be reverse engineered by going to Reddit or wherever and finding the whackiest, most enthusiastic group with the most Otaku relative to the amount of rungs on that market’s ladder (tying in concepts from 22 Immutable Laws). That's the market.
In almost every market the boring slot is filled. Products that annoy, offend, are too simple, are too whatever, are the ones that stand a chance.
- Get permission to alert interested people the next time I do something interesting.
- Work with sneezers to give them the tools and the story they'll need to sell idea to wider audience.
- Once profitable let a different team milk it. Let 1,000 variations bloom, but don't believe own press releases. This is downward slide to commodity. Milk it fast.
- Reinvest again and again. Launch another remarkable idea to same audience.
Make a list of successful companies in my market. Study and figure out how they got there. Model the behavior but don't mimic product and I'll probably be successful too.
Cheap is the last resort for a marketer who is out of ideas. The exception to this is a quantum leap in pricing. A totally different pricing model is one thing. A 10% discount is another (lame) thing.
It's not about being weird. It's about being irresistible to a tiny group of sneezers with Otaku. Being irresistible isn't the same as being ridiculous.
Is your product the best at anything worth measuring? When something breaks, how soon until someone fixes it?
People pay for things that they'll never take advantage of like the worlds fastest motorcycle or loudest speakers, just because they like to know that they could. People like the extreme nature of products.
You can't out-amazon amazon. You must go to where the competition is not. The farther the better. Explore the limits. What if you were the cheapest, the most expensive, the fastest, the slowest, etc? If there's a limit, test it.
Come up with a list of 10 ways to change the product, not the hype, to appeal to a sliver of your audience.
Think of the smallest conceivable market and describe a product that overwhelms that market with its remarkability.
Build and use a permission asset.
Copy from any other industry (but not your own). Outdo a competitor by going even farther toward the edges.
Don't be boring. Safe is risky. Design rules now. Very good is bad.
Books I Didn’t Take Notes On
- Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman ☀️
- Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas ☁️
Books I’m Currently Reading
- Walden (paperback, in progress)
Bonus: The Podcasts I’ve Listened To
- The Tim Ferriss Show Ep 28: Peter Thiel ☁️
- The Tim Ferris Show Ep 92: Maria Popova ☀️☀️
- The Tim Ferris Show Ep 106: Scott Adams ☀️
- The Tim Ferriss Show Ep 243: Vince Vaughn ☀️
- The Tim Ferriss Show Ep 260: Phil Hellmuth ☀️
- The Tim Ferriss Show Ep 33&34: Ramit Sethi ☀️☀️
- The Tim Ferriss Show Ep 99: Solo ☁️
- The Tim Ferriss Show Ep 190: Matt Mullenweg ☁️
Bonus to the Bonus: Videos
I hadn’t planned on watching any videos, let alone linking them here, but this one was so good that I had to make an adjustment.
The aggregation of marginal gains. If you get 1% better each day for an entire year you’d be 37 times better at the end of the year. That’s 3,700% better. Compounding is cool.
Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement. Good habits make time your ally. Bad habits make time your enemy. There are four stages of habit formation.
Implementation intentions. Many people think that they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. Give your goals a time and a place to live in the world.
The failure premortem: It is six months from now. Imagine you have failed to achieve your most important goal. Write the story of how it happened. What caused it to fail?
Sometimes we want what is available to us. We need to shape our environments to provide us with what we want, making it easier to stick to better habits.
Quantity vs Quality? Quantity leads to quality. Sometimes you need to try things and make mistakes to get good. Shut up and put your reps in. If getting reps in is important, then learning how to start is important. Doing reps is just getting started repeatedly.
Two-minute rule. If it takes two minutes or less, eg throwing the laundry in, just do it right now. For things that take longer than two minutes, optimize for the starting line, not the finish line. Focus on the first two minutes, and the rest will often follow.
We only repeater behaviors whose rewards we like. Figure out how to bring the long-term reward into the present. Don’t break the chain. Get a wall calendar and put an X on every day that you do your thing. By measuring your progress you get an immediate reward in the moment. Never miss twice. Hop back on track immediately if you miss one day. This is the key.
Change can happen plank by plank, board by board, habit by habit. The actions that you take provide evidence for who you are. Things that you once or twice fade away. Things that you do day after day accumulate the evidence for what you believe about yourself. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
True change is identity change. The goal isn’t to read a book, it’s to become a reader. The goal isn’t to run a marathon, it’s to become a runner. The goal isn’t to write a book, it’s to become a writer. The way to being something is doing something.
If you can change your habits you can change your life.